Updated: Oct 6, 2017
Once upon a time, it was common to see people skating boards with creative grip tape jobs. Originality went by the wayside for a while as the blacked-out popsicle stick skateboard was everywhere. Times have changed and, thankfully, individuality and inventiveness have crept back into skateboarding. Skating is about creativity, so why not express yourself with grip tape art? The following guide illustrates one way to make your grip tape an expression of your personality. It is not the only way to do it, though. In the same way that no two people have the same skating style, no two boards need be alike. Don’t be afraid to experiment with the techniques and materials. Get creative, and make a board that is as much an expression of yourself as your skating is.
Making Cut-and-Fill Grip Tape Art
Step 1: Pick a safe workplace To do a cut-and-fill grip tape design, it is necessary to cut a pattern in the main sheet of grip tape and fill it with a matching shape from another color. Working on a hard, flat surface will ensure that everything comes out even and flush. It also keeps the grip tape from shifting around, which is dangerous. This method requires cutting down and through a sheet of grip, so be sure the surface is okay to damage. A wooden work bench is best, but leftover plywood from a transition template will work in a pinch. Do NOT do this on the kitchen table!
Step 2: Gather your tools and materials. There are a few things you’ll need if you’re going to get weird with your grip. A single sheet of grip tape will do for cutouts or painting over, but adding color makes a design pop like fresh maple. There’s no need to go overboard; one or two extra colors will suffice.
The other required tools are a marker, a ruler, scissors and a razor blade. It’s always best to use a razor with a handle, such as a box cutter, but a single-sided razor blade works. Make sure the scissors are sharp as well. Dull scissors will make jagged edges and ruin the fitting of the pieces.
Step 3: Draw a design. Decide which color will be the main grip tape on the deck. Flip the sheet so the backing is facing up, and use the marker to draw an original design. Simple shapes usually work best, at least for the first couple of grip art jobs. Cutting out the shapes requires precision, and that is much easier to achieve with simple geometric shapes.
Step 4: Cutting the shapes.
Using the additional colors of grip tape, copy the shapes you drew on the main sheet. Draw them out on the backing paper using the marker and ruler, and cut them out with the scissors. These shapes will serve as the templates for their mirror images on the main sheet of grip tape, so work slowly and carefully.
Next, flip the grip so the grit faces up. Place one of the shapes you cut out where it looks right, then carefully trace it with the razor knife. You’ll need to pull the blade toward you, but always cut away from your hands and arms. It may take several passes to get all the way through the grip and its backing. Getting in a hurry now may mean staring at a messed-up grip job for the life of this deck, so be patient.
Step 5: Affix the main sheet to the board.
You should now have a sheet of grip tape with holes in it, each with a corresponding piece of grip tape in a different color. Now simply follow the steps in the previous article in this series to apply the grip tape to the board. It can be tricky to work with a sheet of grip tape that has pieces missing out of it, so take extra care to stick everything in the correct place and avoid air bubbles.
Once the main sheet is attached, fill in the spaces with the pieces you cut out first. Again, do this step slowly and carefully. Ideally, each piece will stick in exactly the right place and at the perfect angle, but you can peel it off and replace it if it’s not right. Press the pieces on a little bit at a time, working from one side to the other to avoid trapping air beneath the grip tape.
If you did everything right, there should be little to no empty space between the main sheet and the grip tape pieces. With practice, you can make more complicated shapes and improve the fit until it’s perfect. Congratulations… You’re now a grip tape artist!
Step 6: Consider nose and tail art. Perhaps you’re looking down at your work and thinking, “Yep, could’ve done more.” If that’s the case, it’s not too late to attack the nose and tail grip. Simply cut out a section of the main grip tape sheet and use excess pieces of the secondary colors to fill in the blank. The freshly stuck grip tape will peel right off the board, but it’s still best to remove a piece all the way to the edge of the board.
For functionality’s sake, consider doing this step either only on the nose or only on the tail. Modern street decks usually look quite similar from the front and back. While rarely a true double-kick shape, the similarity is enough to make it confusing to find the tail while skating. A splash of color to one side or the other will make it much easier to recognize which end is which.
There has always been a debate in skateboarding. Is it a sport? Is it an art form? The true nature of skating is up to the individual doing it. In its X-Games form, skating is probably a sport. In the street, it is perhaps more performance art. When it’s done right, though, it is always an expression of the personality lurking within each skateboarder. That expression is taking on more varied forms than it has in the history of skateboarding. Why not let your grip be a continuation of that expression?